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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - June/July 2004
Britons of Strathclyde

SDFA member, Adam Bigham from East Lansing, Michigan, sent the following article in for our newsletter and gave permission for it to be used in The Family Tree.

   An important kingdom in the history of Scotland is that of the Britons: specifically the Britons of Strathclyde. After Roman rule was withdrawn from Britain at the beginning of the 5th century, several kingdoms gradually emerged. That which was later called Strathclyde was based on the British tribal division of the Damnonii around Dumbarton, or Alcluith, “the Rock of the Clyde.” At its greatest extent, Strathclyde stretched as far south and southeast as to include Galloway and Cumbria. Linguists classify the language of the ancient Britons as a Brythonic (or Brittonic) Celtic language.

   A mid-5th century ruler, Ceretic was accused by St Patrick of capturing young Irish men and women and selling them as slaves to the Picts. It is not recorded that Ceretic ceased his trading, and no doubt the profitability of the slave trade helped establish the strong kingdom of Alcluith. Patrick wrote a second time to admonish the king.

In one account of Patrick’s life, Ceretic apparently had a premonition that his time had come and, in full view of his court, he was transformed into a fox and ran away. Patrick identifies himself as a Briton in his works, his autobiographical Confession and his Letter to Ceretic. He was captured as a young man from his father’s estate, possibly in Cumbria, and escaped from captivity in Ireland after about six years. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary, and his success is legendary.

   Another missionary associated with Strathclyde is St Kentigern, the patron saint of Glasgow, there known as St Mungo, which means, “dear friend”. He was brought up and taught at Culross by St Serf, and was active in attempting to convert the Britons of Strathclyde, Cumbria and Wales.  King Rhydderch Hen (the Old) summoned Kentigern from the monastery the saint built at Llanelwy, as the king sought to spread Christianity throughout the land. Reigning c580-612, Rhydderch’s Christian practice was probably exceptional in his time, for he was also called Rhydderch Hael, “the Generous”. He is best known from the story of his queen’s infidelity, the “salmon with the ring” miracle. Having gained knowledge of the affair, the king summoned the young soldier to accompany him on a hunt, during which they reclined on the bank of the Clyde for a rest. With marked self-restraint, the king pulled the royal ring off the sleeping man’s finger and threw it into the Clyde Water.

   The king demanded its return from queen Languueth, and since her lover apparently lost it, she sent a messenger to Kentigern, entreating a remedy. By the order of Saint Kentigern in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the messenger of the queen was sent with a fishhook and captured a fish in the river. He brought the captured fish to the saint and when it was cut up found the ring, which delivered the queen. She zealously corrected her life for the future, for she restrained her feet from another such fall. Nevertheless she never revealed to anyone the sign by which the Lord magnified his mercy to her while her husband lived, but after his death she let it be known to all who wished. It is recorded that Rhydderch and Kentigern died in the year 612. The present splendid Glasgow Cathedral, which is mainly medieval, is built over Kentigern’s tomb.

   Following Rhydderch’s reign, the Angles of Northumbria and the Scots of Dalriada dominated the north of Britain, but Owen, reigning from 633-c45, restored the supremacy of Strathclyde, especially with a decisive victory over the Scots at the battle of Strathcarron in 642. The Northumbrian kingdom grew into a great power in the following decades, but at the battle of Nechtansmere in 685, the Picts with their king Brude MacBile killed the Northumbrian king Ecfrith and slaughtered his army.

   During Teudebur’s reign as king of Strathclyde, 722-52, the ascendance was with the Picts under their powerful king, Angus, who dominated northern Britain during the period 730-750. However Teudebur overcame the Picts at the battle of Mygedawg in 750. Angus survived the battle, but his brother Talorgen was killed. Angus lent his help to Eadbert of Northumbria to attack Dumbarton in 756. Dumbarton fell, but, on the homeward journey, the combined army was engaged by the Britons and devastated. Still, the kingdom of Strathclyde may have been subordinate to Northumbria for much of the next century.

   Artgal was ruler from probably sometime in the 850s until 872. From late in the 8th century the power of Northumbria had been on the decline, but the rise in power of the Scots under Kenneth MacAlpin, and the start of Viking raids along the western coast, did not work in Artgal’s favor.

   The Vikings besieged Dumbarton Rock for four months in 870-1, cutting off the water supply. Thus in 871 Dumbarton was destroyed, and many inhabitants were abducted into slavery.  Artgal was murdered in the following year through the treachery of Constantine, king of the Scots.

   King Eochaid ruled the last years of Strathclyde’s independence. He allied himself with Giric of Scotland, both of whom reigned from 878-889. Donald, the son of Constantine, killed Giric at Dundurn and deposed king Eochaid. He became Donald II of Scotland and imposed rule over Strathclyde until his death in the year 900. Within the first year of the Scottish king’s rule, many of the surviving British nobles fled to northern Wales, to the court of Anarawd of Gwynedd.

   Scottish rule continued until 908, when the kingship of Strathclyde was reestablished. The British again had some form of control, but Strathclyde existed as a sub-kingdom that was usually ruled by the heir to the Scottish throne. Strathclyde effectively merged with Scotland after Owen the Bald, fighting alongside the Scots, was killed at the Battle of Carham in 1018.  This important victory over Northumbria regained Lothian for Scotland.

   Cumbria was lost to and regained from England several times, until finally lost in 1092, when the Norman king William Rufus fortified Carlisle. Expanding from the Lennox district south through Dumfriesshire, west to the Firth of Clyde, Strathclyde was once a powerful realm in its own right.

   Until Scotland increased in the 11th century and Gaelic became the dominant language, Strathclyde likely remained Cumbric-speaking. At that time Cumbric agreed closely with Welsh, which now survives as the Brittonic language (that is both written and spoken) in Britain. At the close of the 11th century, the southern border of Scotland was constituted nearly to that of present day. Consequently, this region’s history remains inherent in the history of Scotland.

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